The people of Suresnes donated this land to the United States in 1917, following America’s entry into World War I. Loaned in perpetuity, it became the site for America's first permanent overseas cemetery. The significance of the cemetery to France is underscored by its location overlooking Paris, and its close proximity to Versailles.
Visits in the post-war period by United States President Woodrow Wilson, General of the Armies John J. Pershing, and French military commander Maréchal Ferdinand Foch emphasized the importance of the cemetery.
The newly created American Battle Monuments Commission assumed custody of Suresnes American Cemetery in 1923. Officially inaugurated in 1932, the chapel was re-designed in 1952 to include a World War I and a World War II memorial room connected by loggias.
The site of Suresnes American Cemetery was not a WWI battlefield. Removed from the front lines, Paris escaped the ravages of war. The city was the location of many military hospitals, where soldiers arrived after a field dressing, and it was in these hospitals that many died of their wounds.
This cemetery is unique within the American Battle Monuments Commission, because service members interred here were injured in combat elsewhere, or died of non-combat causes.
The causes of death for the people in this cemetery vary. Many medical personnel, civilian volunteers, and soldiers assigned to real-echelon logistic duties succumbed to the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza pandemic. Of the US Service members who died in World War I, approximately half died from this disease; and many are buried here.
Trench warfare dominated military tactics throughout World War I. The wet environs of life in the trenches fostered conditions for influenza, dysentery, typhoid, trench foot, trench fever, and malaria. Outside the trenches, soldiers fell victim to new military weapons and tactics introduced by the Industrial Revolution, including aerial bombardment, high-tech machine guns, flame throwers, advanced precision artillery, chemical warfare, and submarine warfare. Finally, many lost their lives from training and vehicle accidents.
In the early 20th century, “Shell shock” was the term society applied to the emotional trauma of war that effected service members. Today we know this to be the diagnosable condition “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or PTD, which can affect both soldiers and civilians alike. This cemetery includes graves of people who suffered in the agony of war, and were driven to escape their torment on their own terms.
The international cooperation, friendships, and strategic military partnerships forged by Americans with their allies, especially the French, during World War I are exemplified at Suresnes American Cemetery. Twenty-one non-American civilians and service members of allied countries are buried in this cemetery, intermixed randomly without distinction of national origin, race, or gender. To walk the cemetery bears witness to the wide variety of surnames, branches of duties, and civilian services.
Although Suresnes American Cemetery was the first ABMC permanent cemetery in Europe, the chapel was not completed until 1932. Architect Thomas Harlan Ellett placed the white colonial chapel on the slope of Mont Valerien. It overlooks the town of Suresnes and showcases a panoramic view of Paris. The subdued light of the entry highlights the marble altar and the mosaic of a symbolic Angel of Victory who is offering a palm branch to graves of the fallen. Francis Barry Faulkner, a mural artist who helped organize and train camouflage specialists during World War I, created this piece. The four bronze plaques list the names of 974 men missing in action, or buried at sea.
The two loggia and memorial rooms were added after World War II.
World War I Loggia
Along the connecting wall you will pass a bas-relief portrait of a group of soldiers carrying an empty stretcher. This work of art speaks to American losses suffered in the First World War. Information on the American Expeditionary Force and a list of other World War I cemeteries in Europe accompanies the artwork.
World War I Memorial Room
A statue named “Remembrance” occupies the World War I Memorial room. The subdued shades of the marble walls and floors accentuate the sublimity of the statue.
World War II Loggia
A bas-relief carving on this wall portrays a group of soldiers bearing the shrouded remains of a fallen comrade. This piece of art speaks to American losses in the Second World War. Information on the US Armed Forces and a list of all World War II cemeteries in Europe is also displayed.
World War II Memorial Room
A pure white marble statue titled “Memory” greets you in the World War II Memorial room. An inscription on the wall recalls Lincoln’s words spoken at Gettysburg, “Let us here highly resolve that these honored dead shall not have died in vain.”